Sheriff courts could buckle under the strain of a flood of personal injury cases unless safeguards are introduced, lawyers have warned.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has said a combination of court closures and Government plans to move thousands of cases from the Court of Session will cause delays and pressure in the sheriff courts unless there is significant improvement and investment in court staff, technology and procedures.
The warning came in APIL’s response to the Government’s consultation on the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill which has just closed.
APIL also recommended the creation of two specialist personal injury courts rather than the single specialist court proposed by the Government, to help ease the burden.
“The Government is looking at an extremely ambitious programme of reform for the civil courts in Scotland, which will mean that, in future, almost all personal injury cases will have to go through the sheriff courts rather than the Court of Session,” explained APIL’s Scottish representative Gordon Dalyell.
“The difficulty is that the Court of Session really has become a centre of excellence, running personal injury cases efficiently and cost-effectively, and injured people deserve the same level of service from the sheriff courts and from the new specialist court,” he said.
“If the new system is going to work, it will need an overhaul in its procedures, it will need a review of staffing, from specialist sheriffs to clerks and administrative staff, and it will need an overhaul in its technology to ensure it can cope with the huge influx of cases expected.”
APIL has also raised concerns about the prospect of injured people being dealt with under a new form of simplified procedure for cases valued under £5,000.
“Personal injury cases can often be very complex, which is why the Government has already removed them from the small claims court,” said Mr Dalyell. “It would make no sense to remove these cases from that simplified procedure only to force them into another.
“There are sound reasons for introducing a specialist court for these cases and the new court is most likely to work efficiently for injured people if all personal injury cases go through that system, provided it is properly resourced.”